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Review: Dell XPS 15 Touch is the best Windows laptop ever

Woody Leonhard | July 14, 2014
Dell's big, fast, 15-inch flagship laptop and its amazing touchscreen give the MacBook Pro Retina a run for its money

With a feel and finish rivaling that of the latest MacBook Pro Retina — and a display capable of a super-Retina resolution of 3,200 by 1,800 pixels — Dell's XPS 15 isn't cheap, tiny, or wimpy. If you're willing to pay the price, both in simoleons and in heft, the XPS 15 sets new highs on several fronts.

The unit I tested runs a "Haswell" (fourth generation) Intel Core i7 quad-core CPU; 16GB of memory; a 1TB hard drive with a 32GB solid-state cache; the aforementioned gorgeous, almost-4K, Gorilla Glass, 10-point touchscreen; an Nvidia GeForce GT 750M with 2GB of GDDR5 graphics memory; three USB 3 and one USB 2 slots; HDMI; a media card reader (SD, SDIO, SDXC); a Mini DisplayPort; an excellent, backlit, full-size keyboard; and Windows 8.1. You can order this configuration from Dell for $1,950.

An uninspiring and still expensive $1,550 model has a Core i5 CPU, 8GB of memory, a 500GB hard drive, a 1,920-by-1,080 screen, and integrated HD 4400 graphics. Or you can go whole hog and get the $2,350 version with a Core i7, 16GB of memory, a 512GB solid-state drive, Nvidia graphics, and a bigger battery.

Far from dainty, the XPS 15 weighs in at 4.44 pounds (versus 4.46 for the latest MacBook Pro Retina) and hits a maximum bulge of 0.7 inch (same as the MacBook Pro).

The display is gorgeous, but in my opinion the colors run too hot because of a Dell default setting. You can see this for yourself. Put a colorful picture on the desktop, flip over to the Metro Start screen, type "Windows Mobility Center" in the search box, and in the lower-right corner, under "Customized by Dell," look for the Default display color setting. Switch between "Splendid color," the default setting, and "Generic color." Watch the desktop — particularly the reds — and see if you prefer Generic color, too.

Some older desktop programs — particularly games — may have trouble adapting to the 3,200-by-1,800 resolution. Scott Hanselman has a good rundown of the problem, posted earlier this year. Windows 8.1 includes improvements, and several software companies have been shamed into rewriting their old programs to better handle nearly-4K displays, so some of the old programs now behave themselves. In my weeks of tests with plain-vanilla business software, I didn't encounter anything unintelligible.

The XPS 15's battery life is surprisingly good for a big laptop, never mind the super-Retina screen. Expect about six hours under normal conditions. I put the machine through my you-can-do-this-too acid test — continuous runs of Windows 7's wildlife.wmv file using Windows Media Player on the desktop, 70 percent brightness, no sound or Wi-Fi — and I came up with a respectable but not impressive 3 hours, 10 minutes.

 

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